Last week, I featured the spring rolls that Jeff and I made at our cooking class in Cambodia for Recipe Sunday, but that was only one of five dishes that we made during the whole afternoon class, and that doesn’t include the best part of the whole experience – a trip to the local market! Our cooking class included a trip to the market in Siem Reap, so our instructor, Nara, walked us through the back doors of her restaurant, down a bunch of hot, steamy alleyways, and into her local Albertsons, aka the market.
If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a terrible planner when it comes to meals, so this week I thought that I would actually do a little thinking ahead (cuz I’m a genius like that) and take everyone along with us in preparation for tomorrow’s recipe – Mango Salad. Yum!
In order to appreciate the full experience of this loud, crazy market, though, I’ll need to fill in some more of the, well, sensory details. You can imagine the noises, the colors, and the huge variety of foods that we saw there, but there’s a whole other dimension to this raucous experience. In other words, it smelled. It smelled really bad.
As bright, colorful, and boisterous as this market may be, there’s no getting around the thick wall of odor that hits you when you walk in. Its like hopping into a steam bath of raw fish, wet concrete floors, and sweat. And then wrapping yourself in a shrimp towel. Because there was a lot of shrimp. Or at least things that looked like shrimp. I’m really not sure except that they had beady little eyes and kept staring through my soul. *shivers*
As Jeff and I tried to look as pleasant and least gagged as possible, our teacher, Nara, pointed out the different shellfish and foods that filled the market. Needless to say, I can’t remember any of them because while she was talking and pointing, I was mostly holding my breath and plastering a sweet interested smile on my face. Yes, it was really stinkin’ cool to see all of the locals and check out their crazy foods with a cooking expert that grew up down the street, but when it smells so bad that a fish might as well be slapping me in the face, I get a little distracted.
When we moved on past the fish section and into the dessert and fruit corner of the market, we started to breathe a little easier. All of these bowls are filled with local desserts, and we got to choose which one we wanted to make. We chose the white one nearest to us that was a mixture of tapioca and fresh bananas – mostly because we knew we would have to eat anything we made later on and it actually looked like real dessert food. Call us Americans, but that green gooey stuff that looks like fish eyes does not sound like a good end to a meal.
Once we reached the veggies (and some fresh air), I totally got into the whole market experience and loved touching and smelling all of the herbs, spices, and fruits. This middle image is lemongrass, which is a staple in Khmer cooking. They use OODLES of lemongrass, and while our meals smelled insanely fragrant while we were cooking them, our taste buds were completely overwhelmed once we started eating. Khmer food is chock full of herbs and a myriad of flavors – so many that Jeff and I could barely eat the food when we tasted it. I now understand why they say that American food is bland, because our food tastes extremely dull in comparison to Khmer cuisine!
Here’s our mangos for tomorrow’s recipe! Nara explained in her sweet Cambodian accent that we needed to get young, unripe mangos for the salad, so these hard green ones were perfect.
We also took a look at the bags of uncooked pasta, which may have been my favorite part. These noodles are all hard, so they felt like stiff ropes.
Jeff was shooting like crazy while we kept up with the busy and quick Nara – you had to pay attention to this girl in order to keep up – so this was the only picture he got of us! Ha! Poor Nara! You can see some pictures of her on our post last Sunday.
I hope you enjoyed your trip through the market! I bet you didn’t know you’d be grocery shopping on a Saturday morning did you? See you tomorrow when I get to show off my insane salad skilz!